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The Ugandan Workforce – A Challenge to Employees and Managers Alike

by on Jul.25, 2015, under Observations, Workforce and Work Ethics

Any business, irrespective of the value of its physical assets, has to make substantial investments in its workforce. The Workforce is that fluid, vibrant body, that labour force which gives life to a business and provides foundation for success, or disaster.

In Uganda, things are no different.

Managers like me, when they look around, they see humble, kind, people, non-confrontational, ready to join and take up challenges. They look ready to work hard, perform and even lead. Everyone you interview is up to any challenge the job may present and everyone is promising full dedication, passion and attention to your business and their new job.

Where, then, does it all go wrong?

Why do managers have to fire that pleasant guy, that sweet lady, who looked so good at the interview but can’t pull themselves together to perform, three months into the job?

This being the first of a series of articles about the Ugandan workforce, from a business owner perspective, please allow me to generalize; to list in my perspective, the main reasons for the failures of the Ugandan workforce.

In the coming months, I will illustrate more by topic.

The Ugandan education system is largely to blame. Please note that education includes parenting.

Parents who struggle to feed their families have little time to parent and educate their children before sending them to schools. The Primary education system in Uganda is simply poor with overcrowded classrooms and disengaged teachers.

Secondary schools are slightly better but nowhere near the standards of education that a foreign CEO got in there days. This is the time where all the opportunities are killed for the majority of Ugandans.

Whoever reaches the university level is thrown around based on points they got at A Levels. These young students often end up being allocated the future they are not suited for, can not genuinely relate to. They have no passion for studying the subjects allocated to them hence have their whole career ruined right from before it even starts.

Imagine wanting to be a vet and having to study agriculture. It is related, yes, but it is not what you want. Say you want to be a lawyer, but you are thrown to study something as generic as social sciences. Even worse, try to imagine a born artist ending up doing IT.

Because destinies are allocated based on points, students get in from otherwise poor education system with very little passion and motivation remaining inside them.

The next pitfall is the silent competitiveness amongst people.

When in employment, one should think that people work together for the joint goals and achievements, in order to further the business and improve the bottom line. This is rarely the case. Employees suffer more frustration from ineffectiveness of their immediate colleagues than from unreasonable demands by their bosses and team leaders.

Workforce does not allow for excellence. Colleagues, very nice on the surface, are well prepared to withhold critical information just because they don’t feel like progressing the particular task on that day.

This is equal to silent strike except, it has no other motivation but laziness and disengagement. However, this prolonged behavior results in frustration of the business process and success.

It comes from the lack of passion for the job, lack of motivation and integration with the rest of the team. Often also happens when employee experiences the ‘imaginary elder’ syndrome, which I will elaborate on some other time.

Fear of authority is a paralyzing factor.

It manifests itself in employees finding all possible excuses not to come to authority for clarification, guidance, answers and so on. It is difficult to move any business forward if nobody asks questions or comes with suggestions. The Ugandan workforce is quite uniform here; people, who come to their boss to consult when they encounter a problem, are simply a rare species.

This fear stems from another: fear of ignorance being discovered.

This is a debilitating factor to any business. Because employees receive very little practical exposure during their studies in schools and at college, university level, their knowledge is limited. Most times their knowledge is hugely inadequate for the positions they apply for. Once in the job, they spend more time covering up for their lack of knowledge then actually engaging in learning on the job.

The number of times a manager or CEO can say ‘Google it’ in any given day is huge. Still, employees would rather halt the business process if they are unable to understand what is required, then to admit this lack of understanding. This fear of embarrassment because they don’t know something is proportionate to their managers’ inability to ‘know what their employees don’t know’. Thus the vicious cycle rebirths itself.

What we have to see as managers is that every employee has some inherent strengths and that it is our duty to find what these strengths are, in order to engage the employee to perform based on their strengths, thus not exposing their weaknesses.

Another obligation of managers is to engage employees in the appropriate way, with clear expectations and more importantly, clear job descriptions with clear letter of authority. Further, we must reinforce the scope of engagement by reviewing it regularly and appraising employees based on clearly set performance parameters.

But most of all, our duty as managers of people is to instill good work ethics, the understanding of right and wrong, and encouragement of positive, proactive workplace interaction between employees, providing a safe and friendly place for all.


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